Environmental Groups Assail Plan for LNG Terminal in South Jersey

Developer says truck traffic will be around 360 vehicles a day, in line with Army Corps projections
Ship for transporting liquid natural gas (LNG)Credit: energy.gov
Ship for transporting liquid natural gas (LNG)

Environmentalists on Monday renewed their attack on plans to build New Jersey’s first terminal for the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) on the site of a former DuPont explosives factory at Gibbstown in South Jersey.

Around 30 people attended a public meeting in nearby Cherry Hill to call on regulators to halt the plan by Delaware River Partners to add a dock at the proposed Gibbstown Logistics Center where at least 360 trucks a day would load the potentially explosive material on to ocean-going tankers.

The company wants to build the terminal as an addition to an earlier plan to trans-ship goods including automobiles, refrigerated cargo and natural gas liquids (NGLs) such as propane and butane. The original proposal was already opposed by environmental groups including the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Environment New Jersey, in part because it would involve shipment of products from fracking.

LNG drives up environmental ante

But the LNG component — which was exposed by Delaware Riverkeeper through a Freedom of Information Act request in June — creates a “completely new ball game” that requires increased regulatory scrutiny, detailed health and safety analysis and much greater public review and input, the DRN said.

Environmental groups under the anti-fossil fuel organiztion Empower NJ have accused the port developer of giving inconsistent information about the project to state and federal regulators — some of whom, critics say, are operating in “silos” rather than coordinating their evaluations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example, said the LNG terminal would be served by up to 360 trucks a day around the clock, while a consultant for Gloucester County estimated there would be “nearly 1,650” daily truck trips to and from the site, according to documents.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told the meeting the number of trucks is likely to be closer to 2,200 a day, based on the capacity of the ships. He said former Gov. Chris Christie rejected an earlier plan for an LNG terminal off Asbury Park seven years ago, and said the current administration of Gov. Phil Murphy should do the same.

The trucks would arrive at the port with LNG from a planned liquefaction plant in Bradford County, Pa., one of the “sweet spots” of natural gas production in Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. The truck trip would be approximately 175 miles.

Tracy Carluccio of the DRN said the lack of clarity confuses the public, and raises questions about whether the developer is being candid about its plans.

Keeping public ‘in the dark’

“Facts are obscured, information has been kept hidden, agencies don’t communicate with each other and the public is left in the dark,” she said. “It seems to be a tactic by the company to keep the truth from being understood by the public and even the agencies that will make the key decisions.”

Liz Thomas, a spokeswoman for the DRP, said the number of trucks serving the facility would be in line with that stated by the Army Corps in an amended Public Notice in July.

“The anticipated number of loaded and empty trucks entering and leaving the terminal are specified in the Public Notice issued by the Army Corps of Engineers on July 16, 2019,” Thomas said in a statement. “The new bypass road on which they would enter and leave the terminal has been permitted and expected to open next year, but the number of trucks in the Public Notice would not be seen for at least two years.”

Noting that the project will be regulated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and other state and federal agencies, Thomas said it will comply with all laws.

“Delaware River Partners will comply with all laws and regulations applicable to the handling of any hazardous materials at the facility and such laws and regulations will ensure that any handling of any such products will be done safely and without incident,” she said.

The DRP, which purchased the site in 2016, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors LLC, parent of New Fortress Energy which plans the Pennsylvania liquefaction plant.

The LNG plan was approved in June by the Delaware River Basin Commission, which had been accused by the DRN of concealing the plan.

But after a request from the DRN, the interstate water regulator said in September that it would reconsider the application at an “administrative hearing”, a trial-like proceeding in which both sides are represented by counsel, and the presiding officer reports back to the full commission. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

The DRBC, which has jurisdiction only over the construction and dredging aspects of the project, said its agreement to hold the hearing doesn’t mean its original ruling was in error, and is “merely giving the requester an opportunity to show that the decision should be changed.”

Loading LNG a mile from nearest houses

The Army Corps, which is required to evaluate the proposal on environmental, aesthetic, historical and a host of other grounds, said in July that all loading and unloading of LNG would take place at least a mile from the nearest residences. Since then, it has received more than 100 pages of information about the project from the public and the applicant, said spokesman Steve Rochette on Monday. He said the Corps is working with other federal agencies to “try to bring this matter to a conclusion.”

The United States began exporting liquefied natural gas in early 2016 in response to a surge in domestic production caused by hydraulic fracking of shale reserves, including those in Pennsylvania. Most export terminals are on the Gulf Coast but they also include one at Cove Point in Maryland.

Carolyn Carbone, 74, a psychologist from Haddonfield, said that although she doesn’t live close enough to Gibbstown to be harmed by any explosion, she was alarmed by the projected number of trucks and the broader environmental effects of the proposed plant, and so will be protesting to her elected representatives including Gov. Phil Murphy.

“I didn’t realize how bad it was and how much danger we are really in, and how it’s going to affect so many different aspects of our life,” she said after the meeting. “I’ve always been an environmentalist, but I feel much more motivated now to take action.”

The project has received some permits from the NJ DEP but needs others from the Army Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Energy, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It also needs several permits from local authorities.

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